Every autumn, Canadian and American families gather for a day centred around community, food and giving thanks – the day of Thanksgiving. Where did this holiday come from and how is it celebrated today?

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The history of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving combines the traditions of different groups of people. Travellers and migrants brought different religious traditions from Europe to the United States and Canada. Several celebrations are claimed as the first Thanksgiving. The best known is the celebration held by the pilgrims in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts after their journey across the Atlantic Ocean on the famous Mayflower ship. Like the pilgrims, many groups held days of prayer, fasting or feasting to give thanks for successfully making the long boat journey. Later, settlers celebrated their successful harvest in a new land by holding feasts with their Native American neighbours. Over time, the Canadian and American traditions have become similar and developed into the modern holiday of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving today

In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. In the United States, it is on the fourth Thursday in November. Although its origins are religious, today, Thanksgiving is a largely secular holiday. For most Americans and Canadians, it is a day for coming together with family and friends to share a large meal. It is an occasion to spend time with loved ones and express gratitude for the year that has passed. In many households there is a tradition of everyone seated at the table sharing what they are most grateful for.

Thanksgiving food

Thanksgiving is also about food. Thanksgiving dinner traditionally includes roast turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and, for dessert, apple, pumpkin or pecan pies. Every family has its own recipes, sometimes secret recipes handed down through generations. Turkey, a bird native to North America, is the unofficial mascot of Thanksgiving, with roast turkey on the menu and turkey decorations on the wall. In the United States, a tradition of gifting turkeys to the President has more recently evolved into a humorous turkey ‘pardoning’. At this light-hearted ceremony, the President issues an official pardon for one or two turkeys, saving them from being cooked for supper.

More than food: football, parades and traffic jams!

Beyond food and gratitude, there are some unexpected sides to the American and Canadian holiday. One of these is football. This popular sport is an important part of the holiday, when families gather around to cheer on local or national teams. American football and Canadian football are both similar to rugby, played primarily not with the feet but with the hands.

Parades are another common part of the festivities. In the United States, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade takes place in New York City on the morning of Thanksgiving. It’s one of the world’s largest parades and is broadcast nationwide. A similar Thanksgiving parade happens in Canada as part of the Kitchener–Waterloo Oktoberfest, a multi-day autumn festival.

Unfortunately, heavy traffic is also common at Thanksgiving. In both countries, the week of Thanksgiving is one of the most popular travel times of the year, as everyone heads home to visit their extended family. So try to avoid any road trips if you’re visiting North America during this holiday!

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Language level

B2 English level (upper intermediate)

When do families gather to have a feast in your country?

In my country, we gather during the dashers festival. we all are going outside with other people for the celebration of this festival. after dashers we eat food together at night and love together.

So excited to read! Fantastic! In my country, most families gather in Thadinkyut holidays.These holidays are so cheerful.
Sometimes, the mothers day or when family that lives abroad comes, but is more common in Christmas eve or December 31st. and we have blend from American and own customs sometimes we cook Turkey with a special bread and hayacas that’s a typical food from here or buñuelos, natilla and other type of food.
Families gather to have a feast in my country and - I think - in all countries where there are Christian people, around Christmas time, especially in Christmas Eve, when families prepare a big dinner and, after that, all people go to the midnight Solemn Mass for celebrating Jesus' birth. We have a proverb: "Christmas with your family, Easter with whom you want".
in my country the majority are muslims, we usually have meal gatherings during the holy month of Ramadan, everyday the whole family join each other in a tradition of everyone seated at the table of breakfast after fasting a hole day. usually a feast Lamb meat is done also on Eid Al-Adha forty days later than Ramadan, which synchronizes the come back of pilgrims from Mecca.
In my country there are some special days that families get together to have a feast. One of these days is the first day of winter which we call it 'yalda' or 'Shabe Chele' ,families gather in the night before the winter starts and this is the longest night of the year. people usually buy some special kind of nuts which is contain pistachios, hazelnut, almond, walnut, dried fruits and special kind of sweet and soft candy which is called 'Baslogh'. We also eat watermelon and pomegranate and maybe other kind of fruits and pastries, for the main course we cook fish with special kind of rice which is called 'Sabzi polo'. In this day families gather, they usually watch TV, talk, dance and read the poems of one of the greatest Persian poets 'Hafez' and make prediction using his book and trying to have fun. This is not the only day that families get together in my country one of the other special days is Nowruz which is the biggest celebration in my country in the first day of spring.
We have special day that have feast with family at new year.We eat some fish and drink alcohol.also we pray some future. at this year I pray my job will be better opportunity to rise my computer skills and growing English skill.
Hi Team! I have been thinking that this level is so easy to put C1, Perhapes that could be B1 as well as the other subjects, furthermore I did not found any word in this text with level C1 in the dictionary. Hence I would like to be wrong because that I will get happy reading that one easily. Best Regards. Igor.

Hello Igor

I agree that C1 seems a bit high. We rate texts ourselves and then use text analysis software to set levels for our reading texts. The software showed C1 as the level for this text, though admittedly there are only a handful of words at the C level here. I think there are enough words at the B2 level or higher (at least 25) and enough long sentences with fairly complex structures to make B1 too low a level for this page. But I agree that C1 is too high, so I've changed it to B2.

Thanks very much for telling us about this!

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

That was so interesting! I used to think that Thanksgiving Day was a 100% American holiday. But, as usually, the things are never that simple.
In pakistan we dont have any special day to have meal toghether though people meet each other and have tea at one another's home on Eid day..Eid is a festival muslim celebrate twice in a is called EID ul fit other is call EID ul azha.on these special occassion people who had quarrel or unhappy with one another become friends again and forget all the grievences.